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Standards of Performance for Livestock Projects Market Beef

Livestock Update, May 1998

Mark L. Wahlberg, Extension Animal Scientist, Virginia Tech

Background - The beef industry is moving towards integration and retained ownership through contracts, alliances, and certified beef programs. Breed associations are beginning to obtain carcass information and calculate EPD's for traits such as ribeye area, marbling score, and fat thickness. However, the practice of determining value of cattle based upon carcass weight and grade is not used widely. The transfer of information about carcass traits back to the cow-calf owner who controls the genetics happens infrequently. Consumers report up to 1 out of 4 steaks eaten are unsatisfactory, primarily due to toughness. The industry has a long ways to go in measuring carcass traits and using that information to make selection and management decisions.

Producers profit from selling high quality steers and heifers that gain weight quickly and convert feed to gain efficiently. Carcass characteristics define quality. Rapid growth to the degree of finish where carcass traits are optimized is another extremely important aspect of the right kind of market steer or heifer.

The Standards - There are many different markets for beef, and each prefers a different type of beef. The export and white tablecloth restaurant markets prefer highly marbled beef that grades high Choice or Prime. Chain stores sell a higher quality beef that grades at least low Choice, and a leaner product which grades in the upper half of Select. Two types of standards are shown below. One is for an acceptable carcass today, and the other is a target to strive to achieve to maxi mize value.

Standards of Performance for Market Steers and Heifers
ItemAcceptable RangesIdeal Target
Live Weight1000-1450 lb1100-1350 lb
Carcass Weight600-900 lb700-800 lb
Live ADGat least 2.5 lb / dayat least 3.0 lb / day
Age at Marketingless than 30 months (A Maturity)less than 24 months (max A 70)
Fat Thickness0.2 - 0.6 inch0.25 to 0.5 inch
Ribeye Area11 to 16 square inches12 to 15 square inches
Marblingat least Slight 50at least Small
Yield Gradeless than 3.99Less than 2.99
Quality Gradeat least Select +At least Choice -

On the back of this sheet are tables that show the relationship between various carcass characteristics and carcass price. Values shown are percentages, with 100 being 100% of a base price, a value above 100 is a premium price, and one less than 100 is a discount.

A market steer cannot be adequately evaluated without carcass information. Certainly some important traits can be measured in the live animal. However, measurements of backfat depth, ribeye area, and product characteristics such as marbling score cannot be done in the live animal without very sophisticated equipment.

The traits mentioned above are expressed as a result of both genetics and environment. Genetics is the biological plan that describes what an animal can be. Environment, which includes feed, health, animal comfort, and other similar factors, must be good enough to allow an animal to express its genetic potential for a trait. As long as the calf is healthy, fed properly, and in a comfortable pen the majority of the differences seen are due to genetics. Therefore, market cattle that hit the target are those with the right genetics that are managed in the right way.

(Values expressed as percent of base price)
Prime103 - 110106
Select96 - 9998
Standard77 - 8984
Certified (Avg Choice or more)100 - 102101
Bullock or Stag60 - 7970
B Maturity or older60 - 8475
Dark Cutter62 - 7870
1.0 - 2.0 or < 0.1"100 - 103102
2.0 - 2.5 or < 0.2"100 - 102101
2.5 - 3.0 or < 0.4"100 - 102101
3.0 - 3.5 or < 0.6"99 - 10099
3.5 - 4.0 or < 0.8"99 - 10099
4.0 - 5.0 or < 1.2"89 - 9085
> 5.0 or > 1.2"75 - 8579
400 -500 lb70 - 8679
500 - 550 lb75 - 8883
550 - 900 lb100100
900 - 950 lb100100
950 - 1000 lb75 - 9083
Over 1000 lb70 - 9078

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